The group, which includes associate professor David T. Brown, is overseas participating in the Department of Tourism and Environment’s third annual Term Abroad in New Zealand. Students spend early January through late March in New Zealand in the program, which is a partnership with the Department of Tourism at the University of Otago. Brown is also a lecturer there.
Brown and the students were travelling near Moeraki, about 286 km away from the epicentre, when the quake hit on Feb. 22. They didn’t know about it until they stopped for lunch and heard news reports, Brown said in an email from New Zealand.
Dozens of emails and text messages poured in asking about the group’s welfare, he said. He contacted Tourism and Environment department chair Tony Ward, who phoned the families to students to tell them the group was safe.
“Our students logged onto Facebook and Twitter as soon as they got to a Wi-Fi signal, so most family members heard from their loved ones directly within a few hours of the event,” Brown said.
The group was scheduled to spend March 3 to 5 in Christchurch in a hotel one block away from the quake-ravaged Central Business District. Their plans will now bypass the quake area, he said.
Brown, his wife and his seven-year-old daughter visited Christchurch earlier this month. The hotel they stayed in was destroyed by the quake. He was also in Thailand when the tsunami hit in 2004. He and his wife had cancelled plans at the last minute to go to Khao Lak, one of the worst hit areas.
“As was the case then, we have the same sense of cheating fate,” he said. “There, too, we were almost in the site of the worst devastation at the time it hit, missing it only because of a last-minute spontaneous change of plans. It is a very sobering reality.”
Incidents like the tragic earthquake are a reminder that humans must respect the magnitude of natural forces, he said.
“As a species we all continue to live in a consensus trance that because we think things are OK, that they actually will be - which allows us to go on building cities in earthquake zones and destroying the planet’s ecological support systems,” he said. “Events like these prove how tragically wrong we are.”